Microsoft Ignite is the company’s developer conference. At this year’s event, the overarching theme was using artificial intelligence (AI) to make you better, faster and able to present better than ever before.
While I got particularly excited about Microsoft Designer with DALL-E 2, there were a ton of other AI efforts — that surrounded everything from development to video calls — that will change the way we work and collaborate.
Let’s cover some of the highlights:
Two paths for AI
There are two potential paths for AI.
One is to replace humans and use AIs instead of people. This path is consistent with the robot that Elon Musk announced that is designed to physically replace a person.
The other path, which is almost globally supported by tech companies like IBM and Microsoft, is to create AIs that assist employees and make them more productive and capable.
It isn’t hard for me to support the latter path, because, like you, I’m not ready to be replaced by an AI robot. But I often struggle with the fact that a lot of the work I do is repetitive and could be more easily done by an AI, leaving me to focus on what I enjoy doing.
Filling out forms, creating surveys, finding pictures I don’t have to pay for, and having a video conferencing session that feels more like it was produced by pros where I look great — as opposed to the way it is now where I can look distracted and not engaged even though I am — are just a few of the things I look forward to passing on to AIs.
Low code to no code
I was so excited about learning how to code until I had to do it. I knew what I wanted to do, but the effort to create a viable application was highly repetitive and detail oriented. I liked the conceptual phase of the process, but the execution phase, not so much.
At Ignite, Microsoft showcased how it’s driving AI into tools like Git-Hub Co-Pilot and Power Apps, by lowering the amount of actual coding a developer needs to do and eventually, putting the creation of the application within the control of the user.
Now, I want to share my first large-scale coding effort as a user. I was in the finance part of my executive rotation. We had to learn every major aspect of the corporation, and I needed a CRM application. This was before the term “CRM” was created. I sat down with IT and explained what I wanted. Months later, they delivered a solution that was harder and more painful to use than using the desktop apps I’d used previously. It was put in place by policy, but the issue was that the developers I worked with had no real concept of the job I was trying to do and didn’t appear to care.
Over the years, I’ve seen this same problem recur almost every time an operational unit must get an internal or external developer to create a new application. The lack of fundamental understanding for the job or task tends to result in an initial offering that is unacceptable, followed by a long number of revisions that improve the app over time to minimally meet the initial need.
But how we better dealt with this problem back in the day was to use Office or similar tools to create the app ourselves. While the result wasn’t as refined as what came out of IT, it tended to work on day one and tended to improve to the limit of the tool, most often Excel.
See more: The Top Low-Code Platforms
The capability to create working apps just by describing what you want, once it is easy enough for users, will create a subsequent problem, which is to make sure the resulting apps comply with policy, particularly the policies that correspond to security. These apps will be widely shared but have the potential to do massive damage if they aren’t fully third-party tested and secure. I expect a lot of apps will circulate outside of the control structure, creating avoidable operational and security problems at an impressive rate.
Assuring expedited and easy approval processes are in place and affirmed by policy will be critical to making sure this amazing new capability doesn’t become an even more amazing large-scale problem. Doing one without the other will be problematic. App review and approval tools and processes will need to advance but not become significant impediments. Otherwise, users will bypass them, creating a nightmare of unapproved deployed apps that are both against policy and too beneficial to the company to easily shut down.
Microsoft’s AI future
From creating pictures and apps from words to answering difficult operational and HP problems just by asking an appropriate question, Microsoft is imagining a future significantly enhanced with AI capabilities.
But this pivot will require users to develop descriptive skills. Much like those of us that use the web needed to learn Boolean logic, users of these AIs will need to learn how to most effectively interact with them. Being descriptive and clear in our communications is something taught to a minority of coders and students in general but that’ll need to be fixed if this effort is to be successful. Because if you can’t accurately describe what you want, you won’t get it.
What will help is that AIs increasingly will learn how to translate your vocalized intent ever more accurately. But if you can do it better than most at the start, you’ll shorten your time to productivity and increase your value to the company significantly. Me, I’m looking forward to creating my first picture with DALL-E 2 in Microsoft Designer.
But we are about to be up to our armpits in AIs and especially user-created code, so putting in place policies to deal with the latter will likely serve you as we approach our AI-driven future.